Not only is the weather better, but so is the rugby set up. A swish (if small) club shop in the local Shopping Centre backs on to the Club’s Restaurant / Cafe that seems pretty busy. The home support are nigh on all decked out in Club Colours, be that a scarf, a big thick coat (despite it being pretty warm in January) or a Jonny Wilkinson prayer mat.
How can Peter Thomas fail to miss all of that? How can he fail to see that Toulon have taken the model of professional rugby and sold it brilliantly to a local market? He should spend less time inviting ex-Cardiff players to his hotel room to offer them derisory contracts and spend more time working out how to copy the Toulon model.
On the pitch it was, sadly, men versus boys. The home team don’t seem to have kicked on in quality since the Amlin win but the away team have sunk to an embarrassing level of woeful play. Whilst individual skill levels remain high and Owen Williams, in particular, shone for his disciplined and talented peformance, the collective play and lack of leadership from so called senior players just underlined the gap in quality.
Against a team of hard nosed, physical players (despite missing Sheridan, Botha and the aforementioned Jenkins), the ballerinas in the Cardiff pack were out of their depth. Phil Davies’ idea of getting them to run about quickly is completely pointless when they are constantly battered at the gain line. To beat Cardiff is easy – kick, clap, pressure and pick and drive. The gaps in the defensive line then appear as quickly as Jamie Roberts running away from his defensive duties. Whilst players like Copeland look pretty with the ball in hand and Navidi tries his hardest, a pack containing such relatively physically weak players has no place even on the second table of HEC rugby. You cannot beat the top teams without a physical pack.
The inevitability of the result was so depressing but not as depressing as the capitulation just after half time. The defensive discipline went, the collective play fell apart and tackles were half hearted. Obviously there was some kind of motivation coming from Davies at half time…… Maybe the result in Munster has more to do with him staying at home than anything else.
Amongst the gloom were some rays of sunshine. Whilst not having any idea of game control, Lewis Jones had his best game in a Cardiff shirt and Patchell was Patchell. Two kids at half back who have lots of talent but no idea how to run a game. They need to be taken off the training field for a fortnight and forced to watch non-stop videos of Holmes and Davies so that they learn when to take the drop goal they should have gone for in the first half….. As mentioned, Williams played very well but, sadly, took his positional lead from Roberts – who must surely have been left in France as that clearly is where his heart is.
The shining light, however, was Halfpenny. He was cruelly exposed by a bouncing ball that Wilkinson was clearly controlling from afar, but that was the only blight on a faultless performance of skill, courage and tenacity. Sadly, way too many of his colleagues lack one, or all, of those qualities.